More no-tillers are finding fertilizing and tilling a 6- to 8-inch narrow band of soil in the fall and planting into this strip the following spring definitely boosts corn yields.

They find fall strip-tilling gives a warmer, mellower soil when no-tilling corn, plus it allows them to apply most of their phosphorus and potassium along with nitrogen in the fall. But, they caution that you must use a nitrogen stabilizer.

With corn after corn being the biggest no-till headache he faces, Doug Harford believes strip-till is definitely a must. Plus, the Mazon, Ill., no-tiller says strip-till definitely helps the early season looks of no-tilled fields.

As a bonus, Harford finds fall strip-tilling takes considerable pressure off your no-till planter attachments. And your own stress at corn planting time.

Wide Open Options. There are almost as many fall strip-till rigs as farmers using them. Some purchased rigs while others put them together in farm shops. Assemblies are available to give you a choice of applying anhydrous ammonia, dry fertilizer and liquid fertilizer with the strip-till rigs.

Build Own Rigs. For strip-tilling, Marion Calmer built an eight-row narrow anhydrous ammonia toolbar to match his eight-row, 30-inch John Deere planter. The Alpha, Ill., no-tiller rebuilt this rig from a nine-shank anhydrous applicator toolbar.

“We open a slot with the coulter, inject 60 pounds of nitrogen and cover the slit with inverted closing disc blades,” Calmer says. “We plant directly over the top of this slot in the spring.”

The reverse positioning of the double-disc sealers normally leaves more residue on the surface while tossing loose soil over the knife or coulter slot. Swivel coulters slice through residue to eliminate plugging and bunching.

Calmer runs two coulters per row. With an eight-flute wavy coulter in front, he gets limited tillage and can apply dry fertilizer along with anhydrous ammonia if desired. The wavy blade coulter tills a strip about 3 inches wide — allowing the anhydrous shank to move through this loose dirt like it's running in sand without sealing or soil-erosion concerns. Next, a 13-wave coulter runs behind in each row.

Driving at 4½ mph, Calmer says the rig leaves a 6-inch-tall fertilized ridge in the fall. Over the winter, the ridge height drops to 4 inches.

Worried About Plugging? “If you can pull into standing cornstalks and go the length of the field without plugging with a rig like this, you know the rig will work in soybean stubble,” he explains. “However, some farmers have had problems with plugging next to the anhydrous knives when a rotary combine is used for harvesting corn or soybeans.”

Calmer finds it takes considerable power to handle this rig because of the weight of the unit and the trailing anhydrous ammonia nurse tank. You also need good tractor hydraulics to lift the applicator, fold the rig, run row markers and run the anhydrous pump if it’s not electronically controlled. Calmer says to make sure your anhydrous ammonia tank has the right wheel spacing to run between your rows — 30-inch rows at his farm.

Spring Strip-Tilling? While most farmers don’t strip-till in the spring, Calmer has been experimenting with it. Most farmers believe compaction could be a problem when the rig is used directly ahead of planting in the spring, especially when conditions are wet and you have to get fertilizer applied. As a result, many farmers believe the success of using the system is to do it in the fall.

“However, I’ve learned you can pull the rig a little faster when strip-tilling in the spring,” he says. “So far, we haven’t seen problems.”

In the past, Calmer strip-tilled 60 pounds of nitrogen in the fall, applied another 30 pounds of nitrogen as starter at planting and ended up applying 60 pounds of 28% nitrogen mixed with herbicides broadcast over the top after the crop emerged.

For 1995, he plans to boost the fall strip-tilled nitrogen to 90 pounds per acre and apply 30 pounds of additional nitrogen as starter without broadcasting any nitrogen with herbicides.

Cold, Wet Soils. With flat, black ground at Mazon, Ill., Doug Harford says cold, wet soils are his biggest no-till problem in the spring. Having tried fall strip-tilling for 6 years, he sees it as a no-till compromise which lets him grow more profitable corn — especially with corn-after-corn rotations.

In addition, he finds fall strip-tillage gives better soil structure and is cheaper than using zone-tillage.

“We run a coulter ahead of a standard anhydrous ammonia knife and use discs and cover boards along with standard row markers for fall strip-tilling,” he says. “We have had a great deal of success with this fall strip-till system for warming up soil temperatures the following spring while applying a portion of our fertilizer in the fall.”

Harford doesn’t recommend this kind of rig on highly erodible land where erosion and government compliance is a concern. However, fall strip-tilling is fine with no-tilled ground that is fairly flat since government compliance rules allow you to fertilize in a separate trip.

Harford only uses the rig in the fall — not in the spring.

“I think the corn-stand reduction with anhydrous ammonia injury could be severe,” he says. “But we can find places where fall strip-till has improved soil temperatures in a strip by 10 degrees the following spring.”

Harford urges no-tillers to make sure the cover boards aren’t set too tight. He also doesn’t feel anhydrous ammonia knife selection is critical.

When applying dry fertilizer, he’s sometimes had trouble getting the right flow to some rows.

“A year ago, rows in the center area of the applicator seemed to get more fertilizer than those rows along the outside. Our corn was 1 inch taller with the inner rows,” he explains. “This indicates these outside rows didn’t get enough fertilizer and shows a definite starter fertilizer effect. Dry is cheaper than liquid, so we try to put all of our dry fertilizer down in the fall.

The rig is also built so Harford can pull an anhydrous ammonia nurse tank behind it.

“This allows you make one pass in the fall to apply both dry fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia under site-specific conditions,” he adds. “But we are still a couple of years away from making this idea really work.”

Anhydrous ammonia should be applied 6 to 8 inches deep with a strip-till rig, but Harford would like to see dry fertilizer put on at a shallower depth.

Since you can get off the strip-tilled ground once in awhile, Harford still uses coulters on his no-till planter.